Coal company fined after Hunter River pollution incident

COAL handling facility Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) has been fined $15,000 by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) over an alleged pollution incident during ship loading activities in Newcastle Harbour.

The EPA’s investigation found that PWCS breached a condition of its Environment Protection Licence when approximately ten kilograms of coal material spilled into the Hunter River from a wharf conveyor belt at the Carrington coal terminal last June.

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Five hours later, the spill was discovered during a routine inspection where key pollution controls were found not to be in the appropriate position following repairs to the conveyor belt.

EPA Executive Director of Regulatory Operations, Jason Gordon said PWCS had a poor regulatory record and should have had better measures in place to prevent and detect the incident.

“Coal handling facilities have a responsibility to ensure any ship-loading duties do not impact the surrounding environment,” Mr Gordon said.

“This potentially damaging coal material entered the Hunter River without anyone noticing for several hours.

“The Hunter River is known by local Aboriginal people as Coquun, meaning ‘fresh water’ and is the lifeblood of the region.

“The EPA is committed to taking decisive action on pollution incidents that threaten waterways. “While there were no obvious impacts, coal material can pose a risk to the environment and the potential consequences on marine life are concerning.

“Given the 24-hour operation of this coal terminal and its proximity to the water, it’s crucial for PWCS to have better systems in place to prevent recurrences in the future.”

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve compliance.

These measures also include formal warnings, licence conditions, enforceable undertakings, and prosecutions.

If you suspect someone is doing the wrong thing, phone the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.

The Hunter River flows from the largest coastal catchment in NSW to the sea.

The river begins in the Mount Royal Range in the Barrington Tops, and flows around 460km down to the ocean in Newcastle, covering an area over 21,500 square km.

Port Waratah Coal Services were contacted for comment.

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